When Andrea Jenkins considers the nation's changing cultural landscape, she knows that, for transgender people like her, times are slowly changing.
Jenkins is glad that Laverne Cox, known best for her role in the Netflix original series "Orange is the New Black" made the cover of Time magazine earlier this year next to the headline "The Transgender Tipping Point." She knows that Janet Mock's memoir of growing up a transgender girl made the New York Times bestseller list — and that the highest paid woman in business is United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt, who used to be a man.
But Jenkins, a transgender woman who is African-American, said such stories are the exception.
"The reality is that so many people who identify as gender nonconforming — transgender, male to female, female to male, and particularly transgender women of color — are facing the deepest inequities of our society," said Jenkins, a senior policy aide to Minneapolis City Council member Elizabeth Glidden.
To generate awareness of such problems, and to raise the profile of the transgender community, the City Council will convene a transgender equity summit Thursday at the Humphrey School of Public Policy in Minneapolis. It starts at 1 p.m.
Jenkins, the chief organizer of the summit, said the city of Minneapolis is working to make it easier for transgender people to find employment. City officials also are working on improving the community's relations with the police, helping transgender people gain access to health care and designing better public spaces, such as gender-neutral bathrooms.
Defining what it means to be transgender is difficult, but it generally refers to people who see their gender as different from that of the body into which they were born.
According to a 2011 report by The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty and twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population. Of the survey's 6,450 participants, 64 percent said they had been sexually assaulted — and 41 percent reported attempting suicide.
"There are a lot of barriers — institutional barriers — that make full participation in our civic life very challenging," Jenkins said.
Glidden said Minneapolis officials likely can do little to change the quality of life for transgender residents, but raising awareness of the community's struggles is a good start.
"We are making a statement by hosting this summit that working on these issues is a priority," she said. "We want to listen, we want to build relationships, we want to be better at serving members of the transgender community, and [say] 'we can learn from you.'"
Glidden said the city is using its power to raise the profile of transgender issues by talking with business leaders and lobbying state and county government.
The LGBT advocacy group OutFront Minnesota is co-sponsoring the summit and shifting its strategy from defense to offense, said Roxanne Anderson, the group's associate director of trans organizing.
"We want to celebrate trans identity and affirm that trans lives matter," Anderson said. "Now politically and socially we actually can do that."
Anderson said the summit also provides an important opportunity for transgender people living in isolation across the state to come together, socialize and support one another.
Jenkins said one of the summit's priorities will be to encourage transgender people to participate more in civic life. She said having transgender representation on boards and commissions will naturally lead to good things for the community.
"Government can only do so much," Jenkins said. "It's going to be up to the community itself to make the positive changes and strides we want to see — and government can be a partner in that, and a promoter of that, but we have to build that level of community engagement within the community to be able to do those things for themselves."
Editor's note (Sept. 25, 2104): An earlier version of this story inaccurately identified Andrea Jenkins' role. She is a senior policy aide to Minneapolis City Council member Elizabeth Glidden.